Copper Beech Tree



The Copper Beech Tree: Important Facts to Know

The copper beech tree (Fagus sylvatica cuprea) is an attractive tree used in many landscape applications.  It has an attractive light gray bark that remains visually interesting even through the winter months.  The foliage is what makes the copper beech so distinctive.  The leaves are a rich purple to copper color, and the tree is often used as a shade tree, as it casts dense shade during the summer months.  It grows on average to a height of 40-50 feet (65 feet maximum), so it can be used in smaller yards as well without looking out of place.

The copper beech tree is a name for the European beech tree that has copper to dark purple colored leaves.  The leaves get this unusual hue from high levels of anthocyanin levels in the leaves.  The quality of color of the leaves is dependent of the level of anthocyanin in the leaves.

Plant leaves contain pigments that give the leaves their particular color.  The best known leaf pigment is chlorophyll, which gives leaves their green color and allows the plant or tree to use the light to produce food.  However, leaves to contain more than one pigment, and some species of trees contain more of a certain kind of pigment than others.  Some other pigments are carotenoids, xanthophylls, and anthocyanin (the pigment that is higher in concentration in the copper beech tree).  Each of these pigments absorb different wavelengths of light.  Therefore, the leaves will appear as a different color.  In the case of the copper beech, the higher levels of anthocyanin mask the green color of the chlorophyll and make the leaves appear as a copper or purple color.  These pigments can absorb energy from the sun, and the energy is passed to the chlorophyll to make food for the plant.  These pigments are strongest in the most brightly lit parts of the tree, making them appear more copper or purple.  In shaded parts of the tree, you will note more green leaves.

A deciduous tree, the copper beech will lose its leaves during the fall and will go dormant during the winter months.  They grow best in zones 5-6, and they can tolerate temperatures as low as -20°F.  They should be grown in moist, well-drained soil, and they should be pruned in the early spring when new growth begins to appear.

In some cases, the copper beech tree is mistakenly called the Pupurea tricolor.  The term tricolor refers to the green, purple, and copper color of the leaves, as they do change throughout the growing season.  In many cases, during the summer months, the leaves appear as green with a purplish hue around the edges of the leaves.  In autumn, the leaves will change to a brilliant, golden yellow unmatched by many other trees.

Copper beech trees have had a place in the history of the United States of America.  It is reported that Thomas Jefferson planted copper beech trees at his home, Monticello, although they did not survive to this day there.  Abraham Lincoln was said to be especially fond of the copper beech as well, and he liked to read under a copper beech tree at his home in Illinois.  One is even planted by his sculpture at Waterfront Park, dedicated in June 2009 in Louisville, Kentucky.

This stately tree has become a favorite as a decorative tree amongst landscapers.  For many years, it has been used as an accent tree in some of the most famous locations in the United States.  It was known as a tree of the wealthy in earlier years, due to its decorative nature and the fact that it was not easy to come by.  The tree may be propagated by seed or by cuttings, although it tends to do better when growing it from a cutting.  They are widely available today, though, and it is easy to see why it is a favorite landscaping choice.